psycho shower

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: a defense of Gus Van Sant’s misunderstood Psycho remake.)

Marion steps into the motel shower without a hint of hesitation. She adjusts the hot and cold valves until they’re just right. The water streams out of the shower head, and she lets it wash over her, rinsing away her poor past decisions in the process. This shower is a cleansing not just of body but of spirit. She can feel the wrong-headed choices that brought her here, to this nondescript motel nestled in the middle of nowhere, circling down the drain. Marion, so enamored in her baptism-by-shower, fails to notice the shadow darkening the shower curtain; the shadow of an individual raising a long, sharp object in their hand.

We’ve seen this scene before. We know almost every frame and angle of it in our collection consciousness, even if we’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing the film the scene is from. But there’s something different about it this time. This time, it’s in living color. And the blood that’s about to splatter the shower tiles will be bright red instead of a dark brown rendered in black and white. Because this is not Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, the 1998 shot-for-shot remake that lead critics and audiences to respond with a resounding, “Why?”

And it’s a film worth revisiting.

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Okja

(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)

Summer is here, which means it’s time for summer movie season! Which also means that most of the movies hitting multiplexes will be terrible. Why not stay home and stream some good movies instead?

This latest edition of Now Stream This features what might be the best film of 2017, and surprise surprise, it’s a film made for Netflix. The monocles of movie theater purists everywhere likely just shattered at that news, but this is the age we live in. Below you’ll also find a French horror film, a Japanese New Wave classic, an animated cult classic, a masterpiece of trash cinema and much more. So crank up the AC, turn on the TV and avoid going outside and making human contact at all costs! Let’s get streaming.

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Face Off

“I am tired of myself tonight. I should like to be somebody else.” — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

We are hardwired to see faces. Through the phenomenon of pareidolia, we’re able to glimpse a collection of shapes in a rock, or a cloud, or an oil spill, and imagine we can spot a face within. Our brains are always searching for something to identify; something to relate to. We judge emotions through the facial features of others – we see entire worlds of possibilities in the raising of an eyebrow, or the downturning of a mouth.

Our own faces remain out of sight, save for when we catch them reflected in a mirror, or in a selfie, or ghost-like and shadowy in the screens of cellphones and laptops. Yet even when we’re not looking at our own faces, we tend to have an image in our minds of how we look. It may be idealized or depreciated, but it’s there. Our faces reflect who we are – without them, we might lose our identity. What might happen then if we gazed into a mirror and discovered a completely different person staring back at us. Worse than that – what if it was the reflection of someone we despised. Someone who had caused us irreparable harm. The face of a mortal enemy.

That’s the premise of Face/Off, John Woo’s glorious and deranged action film from 1997. It was not the first Hollywood movie Woo would direct, but it would ultimately be the best, the only film during the filmmakers’ sojourn in America that truly captured his unmatched style.

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Lessons From The Mummy

Remember The Mummy? It hit theaters…*checks notes*…two weeks ago? Wow, time sure flies when you’re trying to forget you saw a certain movie.

The Mummy was sold as a film featuring Tom Cruise doing battle with a recently resurrected mummy, but mostly it sat there, lifeless and entirely void of any entertainment value, all thanks to a muddled script, slipshod editing, and bland direction. The film underperformed at the box office, an inauspicious start to Universal’s proposed “Dark Universe” franchise, which, for some strange reason, is supposed to turn the classic Universal Monsters into action heroes akin to the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Mummy also ended up being one of the worst-reviewed films of Tom Cruise’s career, second only to Cocktail. Truly, this is a dark time for mummies and Tom Cruises everywhere.

What happens next? Where does Universal go from here? What lessons, if any, can Hollywood and Universal Pictures take away from this lifeless corpse of a film? Let’s light our torches, break the seal on this tomb and go exploring. 

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mummy

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy.)

Bad news: The Mummy has risen from the tomb, and it stinks! Universal Pictures bet big on the first film in their “Dark Universe” – a cinematic universe meant to capture the magic of the Marvel movies. The studio was hoping that the surest way to success was to take characters they already owned and fit them into an uninspired action movie formula. The results are stunningly inept. Just how did this film go so wrong? Let’s excavate this monster and get to the bottom of it all.

Spoilers ahead.

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now stream this moana

(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)

It’s time for another edition of Now Stream This, where all your dreams can come true – provided your dreams involve belonging to multiple streaming services. In this edition, we’ve got a new Disney classic, an old Nicolas Ray classic, some creepy puppets, and a baby-faced Jeff Bridges. There’s also a glimpse at some humble beginnings as we look at two debut films from two directors who have new movies in theaters this month.

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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman arrived last weekend and proved that every stuffy studio exec who said a female-driven superhero film wouldn’t work was full of it. Patty Jenkins’ DC Extended Universe (DCEU) debut is a box office hit, with a $103.2 million opening weekend – the highest domestic opening for a female director. But there’s more to Wonder Woman than boffo box office: it’s actually, well, wonderful – an exciting, emotional summer movie that proves the DCEU isn’t the garbage fire many were afraid it might be. Not only did the film clean up at the box office, but it also ended up with a staggering 93% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the archenemy of DCEU fans everywhere.

Any time a film of this nature is a success with critics and audiences alike, the inevitable question Hollywood asks is: what next? How does one use this success as an example and run with it? There are several lessons to take away from Wonder Woman, but the most important one may not be the most obvious. The biggest lesson to learn from Wonder Woman is that sincerity is no longer a dirty word.

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Now Stream this Zodiac

(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)

June is approaching and what’s better than basking in the warmth and sunshine of summer? How about staying inside and streaming some great movies? In this latest edition of Now Stream This, we have the best film of 2016, one of the best films of the 21st Century, some peak David Lynch, a slice of grindhouse greatness and much more. There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues, but at least there are plenty of movies to watch.

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Alien Covenant

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant.)

In 1979, Ridley Scott unleashed Alien on unsuspecting moviegoers, creating something that would end up becoming iconic in the process. Scott, a filmmaker with a background in graphic design, took what was essentially the type of B-movie that cluttered up drive-in theaters and turned it into something greater – a haunted-house picture set in space, dripping with atmosphere and dread, heightened by grotesque creature designs from nightmare-expert artist H.R. Giger.

Alien would turn into a franchise, although Scott stayed away for most of it. He returned for the sort-of prequel Prometheus, one of the most polarizing films of his career. Fans expecting another Alien were sorely disappointed, as Scott no longer seemed interested in the simple, dread-inducing terror of his 1979 film. Instead, the filmmaker wanted to use the Alien mythology as a framework on which to build a more complex, existential examination of the origins of humanity.

Scott could’ve walked away from the Alien franchise after Prometheus, but instead he seems committed to riding this out to see how far it will go. He has returned with Alien: Covenant, which loaded its trailers and promotional material with the familiar xenomorph alien that fans are familiar with. This film, Scott seemed to be saying, would be the Alien-type film Prometheus was not. It was a trick, though. The filmmaker had more complicated, complex ideas in mind. They don’t always work, but you have to at least appreciate his willingness to experiment with them at this stage in his career.

Spoilers follow.

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ridley scott director's cuts

Few filmmakers have embraced the extended director’s cut as much as Ridley Scott. Plenty of other directors dabble in the form, but results vary. When George Lucas revisited the original Star Wars trilogy, adding new special effects and splicing in scenes that were originally left on the cutting room floor, fans grew irate. When Steven Spielberg digitally swapped-out rifles for walkie-talkies in a re-release of E.T., it was viewed as pointless. In the cases of Lucas and Spielberg, the filmmakers were attempting to improve on things that perhaps didn’t need improving, leading to the age-old question, “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”

But for Scott, the director’s cut is something of an art form. The Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was famous for frequently not signing his name to his paintings, because he didn’t want to admit the work was done. He recreated the same painting again and again, sometimes even destroying canvases, in an elusive quest for perfection. Perhaps this is what Scott is doing as well; leaving the corner of the frame blank, delaying the final signature.

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